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Turkey’s 2.5 million Syrian refugees

The following text is copied from the blog of economist Larry Willmore, and I think it merits re-posting because of widespread reports in the media in Europe about Turkey’s non-cooperative stance about taking back refugees who have made the hazardous crossing to Europe. Really? Read on below…

image courtesy yenisafak.com

image courtesy yenisafak.com

We are bombarded daily with news of problems with the massive influx of Syrian refugees in Europe, Jordan and Lebanon but seldom hear about the much larger number of Syrian refugees in Turkey. The reason there is so little reporting from Turkey is that Syrian refugees there encounter little hostility. Moreover, significant numbers are able to work informally, often in businesses run by Syrians. The Turkish government recently began to issue a restricted number of work permits to refugees. Refugee employment would no doubt increase, along with wages and working conditions, if the tight restrictions were relaxed.

[T]he 2.5 million Syrian refugees in Turkey have encountered less hostility than in Jordan and Lebanon—not surprising given Turkey’s population of 77 million …. Jordan and Lebanon face a significantly higher burden with over one million Syrian refugees in each country, representing an influx equal to, respectively, 20 and 25 percent of the native population.

It may also be that Turkey’s more open business environment has played a role in lowering tensions. ….

Over the last four years, about 4,000 formal tax-paying firms—employing thousands of workers, mostly Turkish—have emerged. And informal enterprises may multiply this number. …. [M]any of these [refugee] workers make less than minimum wage and have no social benefits. But in January 2016 Turkey’s official gazette announced the granting of work permits to refugees, though employment is capped at 10 percent of a firm’s workforce.

Omer M. Karasapan, “The impact of Syrian businesses in Turkey“, Future Development blog, Brookings, 16 March 2016.

For more by this author, see his Amazon page here.

Women and Wild Savages: Book Review

Synopsis: (from the Amazon website) At 18, Lina is an aspiring actress and the stunning daughter of Viennese coffeehouse owners. When the imperial capital’s most sought-after bachelor, Adolf Loos, unexpectedly proposes, she eagerly agrees. But the honeymoon is short-lived. Her “modern” husband might be friends with women activists but his publically progressive views do not extend to his young wife. Thank goodness for the sympathetic ear of Café Central’s beloved, old poet, Peter Altenberg. But when Adolf Loos unwittingly pushes Lina into the arms of his activist friend’s handsome son, Lina becomes entangled in a web of desire, jealousy and intrigue. No man’s love is unconditional. As the three friends rival to mold her into the perfect wife, muse and lover, Lina strives to recall the woman she once imagined herself to be. Fact and fiction weave together with history and romance in this tragic yet inspiring tale of Lina Loos’ struggle for love, liberation and self-fulfillment during her years of marriage to the renowned architect, Adolf Loos.
Set in the early 1900s in fin-de-siècle Vienna, Women and Wild Savages tells the timeless story of a person’s journey to recognize and be herself in a world determined to make her into someone else.

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One of the first books I read about Austrian history nearly 4 decades ago was Frederic Morton’s hugely enjoyable “A Nervous Splendor.” This historical novel provided a vertical slice-of-life view of Viennese society in the closing decades of the Habsburg empire at the turn of the 19th century to the 20th. I then read many books about this fascinating period. William Johnston’s scholarly collection of essays, “The Austrian Mind” stands out, as well as Carl Schorske’s “Fin de Siècle Vienna.” Where Morton’s work gave a vertical view of life in the Vienna of the time, KC Blau’s novel gives a complementary, horizontal glimpse of Viennese society. Where Morton’s work was history written as fiction, this novel is more of a fiction written as history (although based on true events). Anyone who has enjoyed any one of the three above-mentioned books will surely give this novel a 5-star rating for its authentic recreation of the atmosphere and mores of the time. Readers who know nothing of Vienna will perhaps miss the authenticity of the period details but will surely enjoy the writing and the development of the characters. So while my personal opinion inclines to 5*, I’ve decided to rate it a 4* overall for the benefit of the average reader. I look forward to reading more of the “Vienna Muses” series as and when when they are published.

For more by this author, see his Amazon page here.

Hinkley. Oh no!

The political decision to power ahead with Hinkley Point C nuclear power station is the energy equivalent of appointing a tone deaf musical director to the London Symphony Orchestra. How much more evidence do Cameron and Co. need? A short litany of anti-Hinckley arguments should suffice.

2002 – British Energy bankrupted and rescued by British taxpayers to the tune of £10 billion (p.29, World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2011)
2005 – Olkiluoto Nuclear Power Plant, Unit 3, in Finland, built along the same design proposed for Hinkley 3. Construction began in July 2005, scheduled for completion in 2010 at a projected cost of €3 billion (£2.34 billion). Still incomplete in 2016 with total costs amounting to more than £6.6 billion so far and not a single unit of power generated.
China is offering to invest £6 billion in Hinckley while, in its own backyard, renewables outspend new nuclear five to one. (approx. £103 billion budgeted for nuclear upto 2020 compared to £62 billion spent on renewables in 2015 alone).
Hinkley 1

Hinkley 1

In a case of economics speaking truth to power, the OECD’s 2010 World Energy Outlook quietly increased the average lifetime of a nuclear power plant to 45-55 years, up 5 years from its 2008 edition.

Finally, the single paragraph below from p.31 of the 2011 Nuclear Energy Status Report (first link above) should make anyone sit up and pay attention.
It is important to note that the economics of nuclear energy are very different when considered from a societal point of view, rather than from a strictly corporate perspective. Most governments advocate the “polluter pays principle,” meaning that those who consume the energy from a nuclear plant should also pay for the wider impacts on society and the environment—including impacts associated with decommissioning and waste disposal. This assumes, however, that future generations will have the funds to carry out these hazardous tasks. The timescales for investment and return are so long that even the most conservative financing scheme will have a significant risk of failure. The mechanism to provide cash to pay for decommissioning nuclear facilities in the United Kingdom already has failed comprehensively, leaving undiscounted liabilities of some £100 billion ($165 billion) but few funds available, putting the burden on future taxpayers.
 How much more needs to be said?
Meanwhile, the BBC noted on 26-10-2005 “Wind turbine farms rejected.”
The exposed location of Hinkley Point meant that it was considered ideal for wind generation. However, a proposal to build 12 wind turbines close to the site of the nuclear power stations was turned down in October 2005.[4] The reason given by the local council for the rejection was safety fears over what would happen were a turbine blade to detach and hit “something or somebody”
For more by this author, see his Amazon page here.

Al Jazeera on Agarwood

Al Jazeera had an interesting report on the endangered Agarwood trees of Hong Kong. This fragrant tree is the reason for Hong Kong’s original name, phonetically, “Heung Gong” or fragrant harbor. The agarwood tree (aquilaria sinensis) grew plentifully all over Hong Kong and its surrounding islands. The tree was widely found in southern mainland China as well. The tree produces a light odorless wood. However, the wood is frequently attacked by a fungus. The tree defends itself by producing a dark, aromatic resin that over time infects the heartwood and infuses it. This valuable heartwood fetches prices of US$ 1000 to 2000 per kilo. Even more valuable is pure agarwood oil distilled from the wood. For example, an Indonesian supplier offers it (see link here), presumably legally sourced, for US$ 10,000 to 12,000 per 100 ml.

A stand of endangered agarwood trees

A stand of endangered agarwood trees

The agarwood stocks in Mainland China are long gone, hoovered up by traders in the rush to economic development. Hong Kong’s stands have been mainly untouched, protected by the sound administration and relatively uncorrupt bureaucracy left behind after colonial rule. Now these stocks are under increasing threat as more and more poachers take what they can under cover of darkness from remote corners of Hong Kong’s islands.

Sadly, in their clandestine haste to harvest the wood, the thieves indiscriminately cut down all agarwood trees, regardless of whether they’ve been fungus infected or not. Which means that they cut down an entire stand and take only the infected heartwood they find. No wonder that Grace has her work cut out for her!

The resin of the agarwood trees of Assam (aquilaria agallocha) is considered the finest in the world. However, different species of this tree also grow in Vietnam, Cambodia (more on that in the forthcoming book The Trees of Ta Prohm), New Guinea and Burma (Myanmar). A propos Myanmar, congratulations to the NDP on their recent sweeping electoral victory. Best wishes to the newly elected representatives and wisdom to Aung San Suu Kyi in the difficult transition from military to civilian rule.

For more by this author, see his Amazon page here.

Read a sample from “Grace in the South China Sea” here.

Six Degrees of Separation

Dogma?

Dogma?

Religion

Religion

6 degrees of separation

6 degrees of separation (image courtesy quotesgram.com)

 

Liberty vs Justice

Just read an article in The Atlantic by Kaveh Waddell entitled “The Information Revolution’s Dark Turn.” A thoughtful piece based on an interview with Scottish philosopher Alistair Duff. The article reminds me that, in this age where technology, especially information technology, dominates the world economy, we need the arts and philosophy more than ever.

We need artists, philosophers, ecologists and other deep thinkers to observe and articulate trends in society, pointing out the opportunities and pitfalls that lie in wait for the world, striking a balance between the mindless daily diet of horrors and disasters served by the media and the treacly reassurances spouted by politicians in search of votes. The two following sentences resonated with me and I’ve shared the text in italics below.

The ultimate value is not liberty: It is justice. Liberty has to fit within the context of social justice. And where it violates justice, I’m afraid justice trumps liberty.

The first thought that comes to my mind is: try telling that to the Donald. In his case, liberty (donald) trumps justice!

For more by this author, see his Amazon page here.

Spreading the Sunshine 1: A New Year Message

Even today, in the first half of the twenty-first century, thousands of villages in Africa and Asia (mainly in India) remain off-grid and have no access to electricity. Ever since a three-month stay in Kenya and Tanzania in 1985,  I have dreamt of bringing solar lighting to the smallest villages on these two continents. In Kenya I was astounded to see that, as early as 1985, a few rural families had bought individual solar panels connected to used car batteries to power a single light bulb and the occasional television set. They did this because they had no hope of access to grid electricity in their lifetimes. It’s even more astounding to think that in affluent countries today, the majority of people who drive $ 20,000 cars consider solar power unaffordable without government subsidies. No wonder the world is hotting up! Such economic calculations show how skewed our thinking is.

Of course it was obvious that this journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Less obvious was what this first step should be. Mhairi made the first step on a recent (November 2015) visit to a village on the outskirts of a tiger sanctuary in Rajasthan. She made contact with the owner of a handicrafts shop on the edge of the Ranthambore national forest and tiger reserve who helps village craftswomen earn a living by marketing the beautiful tiger paintings, patchwork quilts with mirror designs and appliqué fabrics they make. Dharamveer was thrilled to hear about the idea of installing solar lighting for the nearby villages. He immediately took us to visit three of the 10 surrounding villages. These villagers have limited or no access to electricity. Even the few homes connected to the grid have power only 2 or 3 days a week, so they end up spending 2 to 3 hundred rupees a month on electricity bills or on kerosene for inadequate lighting with lamps. The proposal to pre-finance solar lamps for each household in the village was met with much enthusiasm. They were quite willing to pay 200 to 300 rupees a month for reliable solar lighting. And they were delighted to hear that, at a price of just 499 rupees (US $ 7 at current exchange rates), the lamps would belong to them within three months. Apart from the environmental costs of burning kerosene, the biggest drawbacks are cost and inadequate light for children studying or doing homework.

The Pico lamp, US $ 7 with a 2-year guarantee.

The Pico lamp, US $ 7 with a 2-year guarantee.

The idea we propose is quite simple. We plan to finance around one hundred of these solar lamps initially, to be distributed to a number of households in the ten target villages. Presumably they will be paid for in 3 months from the money the villagers save from their kerosene and electricity bills. We will request voluntary contributions for another 2 months and use the extra money to expand the circle of recipients till all households in the villages are covered. After which one can think of more elaborate systems, for example, like the model shown here that costs 7000 rupees or US $ 100 at today’s exchange rates. Greenlight is a for-profit company started in the US by three engineers, two American and one Indian. Their products have received good reviews in the international press.

The Sun King Home 120 is priced at approx US $ 100.

The Sun King Home 120 is priced at approx US $ 100, can power USB devices and mobile phones.

We have decided on Greenlight’s Sun King model range, based only on our own internet research and news reports. Readers of this blog are invited to give feedback or share their own experiences with different models. I can envisage offering a range of different systems based on cost and reliability. I look forward to hearing from you.

For more by this author, see his Amazon page here.

Deeg: The Palace that Time Forgot

A pleasure garden in a timeless corner of a forgotten palace. Deeg did not much impact the history of the wider world outside, but in this palace can be seen glimpses of the glory it reflected after Suraj Mal’s victories over the Mughal emperors and conquest of Delhi. He brought back several buildings entire, marble and all, cut into numbered blocks and skilfully reassembled in his palace grounds. The seams are invisible, and the buildings include Nur Jahan’s favorite marble perch from which she presumably contemplated the blue flowing waters of the Yamuna River. Today that truly is a dream.

A timeless pleasure garden in a forgotten palace

A timeless pleasure garden in a forgotten palace

The Maharaja's pet tiger lived in adjoining quarters

The Maharaja’s pet tiger lived in adjoining quarters

What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to lie down and stare...

What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to lie down and stare…

The artisanal excellence embodied in the Taj Mahal is to be found here too

The artisanal excellence embodied in the Taj Mahal is to be found here too

Doorways to Neverland

Doorways to Neverland

Three thousand fountains powered by gravity feed from tanks with water from the River Jamuna still flow twice a year.

Three thousand fountains powered by gravity feed from tanks with water from the River Yamuna still flow twice a year.

For more by this author, see his Amazon page here.

The Banquet and afterwards…

The wedding banquet was a long drawn out affair that began at seven in the evening in a brightly lit and freshly decorated marriage garden. Guests trundled in from 7.30 on, with a constant stream of arrivals greeting friends and relatives. Street food was prepared fresh by a handful of cooks who constantly replenished the buffet tables. Small molded plates were available, pressed from the large dried leaves of a local tree, the ultimate in recyclable convenience. Marriage gardens are a big business in India, by the way, and even the most modest ones enjoy a healthy cash flow, while upmarket ones in urban areas are more like themed parks that can cost € 50,000 a night or more. It was mind-boggling for me to think of the amounts of money being spent on the most lavish weddings. In contrast, the one we attended in Agra was a masterpiece of careful budgeting that looked three times more expensive than it actually did.

The ultimate in re-cyclability: compressed leaf bowls

The ultimate in recyclability: compressed leaf bowls

Delicious street food made to order

Delicious street food made to order on demand

While all this cooking, eating and socialising went on in the marriage garden, the groom arrived in a carriage drawn by two white horses, accompanied by lights and music. A short while later, bride and groom mounted a raised platform where the actual ceremony is to take place. Traditional Indian weddings are a delight for the guests, who enjoy hours of free food and fraternity, while the bride and groom endure a long drawn out ceremony dictated by religious rites and countless local traditions. The couple are finally wedded at dawn, by this time numbed to exhaustion. This could be a reason why arranged marriages last and divorces are rare. However, as traditions die out, there are many signs of change.

The groom arrives in a horse drawn carriage

The groom arrives in a horse drawn carriage

The raised platform on which the exhausted couple will finally be wed.

The raised platform on which the exhausted couple will finally be wed.

Signs of change next morning everywhere, ubiquitous cell-phones, ads for online shopping, fat cars muscling their way into narrow, overcrowded streets. But after last night’s banquet, we will rest a couple of hours and then drive to Deeg, the palace that time forgot. More in the next blog.

Saving Trees: Grace in the South China Sea as a Kindle edition

20140926_180742“Grace in the South China Sea,” is now available as an e-book on Kindle. For copyright reasons, it won’t appear on the i-Tunes bookstore or Google Play books for 3 months, till mid-February. Potential readers are encouraged to buy the electronic edition rather than the paperback. One, it’s much cheaper, at US $ 3.21 (€3, or £2.30 at various Amazon sites), as opposed to $10.63 plus postage. Two, no trees have to die for the sake of a few hours of escapist reading pleasure. Hint. Trees play an important part in the story.

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For more by this author, see the Amazon page here.